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The Guild Counsel: A closer look at leadership style

Karen Bryan

There's a little saying that dogs and their masters often tend to resemble one another. That can also be true for guilds and their leaders. The atmosphere and feel of a guild, more often than not, is a mirror of the leader's personality. If a guild is running roughshod across the server, laying waste to the countryside, chances are that it's being led by an aggressive, type A personality. Similarly, if there's a guild that charms the pants off the server and is known for its friendly tone, there's a good chance it has a leader with a matching style.

But sometimes, a certain leadership tone can work effectively in some ways and fall flat on its face in others. This week in The Guild Counsel, we'll look at three common leadership styles -- the yeller, the motivational speaker, and the den mother -- to see how each works well and how each can fall short of the mark.

The yeller

We've all come across this guy. Sometimes, he's our guild leader, and sometimes, he's running the guild with which we're (probably) butting heads. If you make a mistake, you're going to get an earful from him, and if you cross his path, brace yourself for a tirade.

When it works: I was once an officer for a guild leader who was known for his brash style. Before I was in his guild, I viewed him as a huge jerk, but once I joined his guild, I realized how well his leadership style worked for those in his guild. It was a huge guild, and it had some colorful personalities, so his tone worked well in keeping egos in check and making sure that those 100-person raids stayed sharp. What I eventually discovered, though, was that beneath that aggressive demeanor was someone who was very sincere and who cared a lot about his members. More than once, he offered important life advice to some of the younger members in the guild. And when he was in small groups or one-on-one with someone, he was much more laid back and relaxed. In short, he knew when to turn it up and when he could let his hair down.

When it doesn't: On my trips to the park with my kids, one thing that always stood out to me was that you could tell which moms were yellers because they were the ones yelling the loudest, and their kids were the least responsive to it. Yelling, when overdone, loses effectiveness rapidly. And while yelling might have some entertainment value, many players just aren't interested in having someone screaming at them while they're trying to simply play a game. The guild leader I described above mixed humor in with his brashness and didn't take things too seriously. Someone who screams all the time is probably going to lose quite a few members in the long run.

The motivational speaker

This is the guild leader who can make even the most casual guild feel like it can take on the toughest endgame content. He inspires, he energizes, and boy can he deliver a great speech!

When it works: Any guild with an overarching goal can benefit from a "Gipper" speech. Part of the fun of being in a guild is knowing that everyone is pulling together to make something cool happen, whether it's killing a raid boss, leveling the guild, or building a guild hall. Guild leaders who can deliver positive motivation can really create a great atmosphere for teamwork and camaraderie.

When it doesn't: One big achilles' heel for the motivational speaker is a tendency for long-windedness. Those pre-raid flowery speeches in voice chat can end up being the unofficial "beer run" break for some. And it was even worse in the time before voice chat, when a hand-typed speech could provide enough time to go out and order a five-course meal. The other problem is that not everyone is into Tony Robbins, and there are some members who not only are turned off by motivational speeches but actually resent it. It's important to make sure that if you have a goal, the motivation doesn't solely come from you. There have to be other factors that inspire people to get on board with the goal and contribute to it. It could be the reward of success, it could be the player's own self-motivation, or it could be something else. But it can't just be your powerful speech.

Vanguard guild hall

The den mother

Many members love the den mother. You can have the worst day at work or school and know that when you log in, she'll be there waiting with an open ear and a plateful of virtual cookies.

When it works: Den mothers are great because they create that family feel that keeps guilds running for years. Members end up seeing past the avatars and make some powerful friendships thanks to the homey tone in guild. I've met a few den mother leaders of various playstyles; they tend to run some of the nicest guilds around, and their members usually share as many out of game memories as in game.

When it doesn't: The biggest problem with den mothers is burnout. In the virtual world, it seems like everyone has a problem that he's struggling with, and if you try to be the shoulder for everyone, you run the risk of not having any time for yourself. The other pitfall is that you can't always be a friend and a leader at the same time. The member you counseled last week might end up in your face the following week because he didn't agree with a loot call. Sometimes, a little distance is a good thing.

The most important part of leadership style is to avoid being something that you're not. You have to be genuine, or members will see right through it. Given that fact, though, I've learned by leading guilds how to make my leadership style work best. It's definitely a process, and I've found myself fine-tuning my approach to things here and there in order to make myself an effective leader. And that's a lesson that can carry over to real-life leadership roles as well.

Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.

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